After nine days of protests of the universally condemned actions of police in the death of George Floyd in police custody, a six-square-block area in the Capitol Hill neighborhood just east of Seattle’s downtown has been seized by activists declaring they have established an “autonomous zone” called “Free Capitol Hill” that is governed by its own laws.
The Seattle Police Department, under Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Carmen Best, a black woman, has abandoned its precinct within the “zone.” Activists, meanwhile, have used barricades to create a perimeter around the surrounding neighborhood, calling on volunteers to provide armed guards, reports independent journalist Andy Ngo via Twitter.
Ngo tweeted photos of a “Free Capitol Hill” poster Tuesday night taped to a barricade and noted a map posted by the activists of the “occupied territory.”
The “occupiers” have been described as anarchists, members of the militant Antifa movement and of Black Lives Matter. Local KTTH talk-radio host Jason Rantz pointed out that an Antifa affiliate has boasted of being part of the seizure of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
The activists’ map describes the abandoned police station – the doors were said to have been left unlocked – as “Captured Regime East Precinct.”
Meanwhile, socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant – known for launching the $15 minimum wage movement – led a march Tuesday night of several hundred demonstrators from the Capitol Hill zone to City Hall.
The demonstrators occupied City Hall for just over an hour, calling on the mayor to resign and demanding the defunding of the Seattle Police Department.
While some Democratic politicians across the nation in the past week have entertained the defunding demand pushed by Black Lives Matter, they speak mainly of shifting funding for police departments to programs intended to reduce crime. But the activists who claim to be in charge of “Free Capitol Hill” make it clear in a list of demands posted online that they want the “abolition” of the Seattle Police Department along with the “attached court system.”
Both are “beyond reform,” they contend.
The protesters entered City Hall on Tuesday night chanting “Whose City Hall? Our City Hall.” They listened to speakers behind “the people’s mic,” as Sawant called it, on issues such as the importance of Black LGBTQIA+ women in the ongoing protests.
“It is about building the kind of political representation that brings the voice of the people into the halls of power and grabs power for ordinary people,” Sawant said.
Beginning Wednesday, she promised, the City Council “is going to be discussing budget issues, meaning two very important demands for us: Defund SPD and Tax Amazon.”
However, after a song warning Durkan “you about to lose your job,” another speaker accused Sawant of coopting the Black Lives Matter movement for her own agenda.
“Please stop using Black Lives Matter for your political campaigns,” the speaker said. “I’m really sorry, I want to tax Amazon, too. I want to do all these things, too. But this is not a movement for you to be politically active, for you to be politically correct, and for you to gain all these votes. Please stop taking advantage of us.”
The “Free Capitol Hill” map includes areas marked as “Commune Food Stations,” “CHFZ Commune Barricades,” “Relaxation & Dining Field (food regularly handed out + coffee bar)” and “Stoa (Informal Congregational Area).”
“Stoa” is an apparent reference to the public hall in ancient Athens where Greek philosopher Zeno gave his lectures on the Stoic school of philosophy.
The map also marks a grocery store outside the zone as “Regime Occupied Safeway (Police holed up here).”
Julio Rosas reported from outside of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct that protesters have declared it a “Cop Free Zone.”
A statement posted on Medium.com attributed to “Free Capitol Hill” listed their immediate demands, including the abolition of the Seattle Police Department and the court system.
“In credit to the people who freed Capitol Hill, this list of demands is neither brief nor simplistic,” it begins. “This is no simple request to end police brutality. We demand that the City Council and the Mayor, whoever that may be, implement these policy changes for the cultural and historic advancement of the City of Seattle, and to ease the struggles of its people.”
There are four categories of demands: The justice system, health and human services, economics an education.
The abolition of the SPD is the first demand.
“We do not request reform, we demand abolition. We demand that the Seattle Council and the Mayor defund and abolish the Seattle Police Department and the attached Criminal Justice Apparatus. This means 100% of funding, including existing pensions for Seattle Police. At an equal level of priority we also demand that the city disallow the operations of ICE in the city of Seattle.”
In the interim, until the police department is “dismantled,” the “occupiers” demand “that the use of armed force be banned entirely.”
“No guns, no batons, no riot shields, no chemical weapons, especially against those exercising their First Amendment right as Americans to protest.”
Demand No. 13 is “the abolition of imprisonment, generally speaking, but especially the abolition of both youth prisons and privately-owned, for-profit prisons.”
Instead, the demand is that “autonomy be given to the people to create localized anti-crime systems.”
Among other demands is “free college.”
The activists thank City Council member Sawant “for being the only Seattle official to discuss with the people on Free Capitol Hill the night that it was liberated.”
Mayor pledges another $100 million
In a statement Tuesday night, Seattle Mayor Durkan did not address the autonomous zone but explained the police department’s retreat from the East Precinct and pledged an additional investment of $100 million in the community along with the creation of a “Black Commission” to advise City Hall.
She explained that in “an effort to proactively de-escalate interactions between protestors and law enforcement outside the East Precinct, Chief Best and [Seattle Police] officers have removed barricades surrounding the East Precinct while safely securing the facility.”
Durkan said the Seattle Fire Department also “has several vehicles stationed near the Precinct to ensure emerging medical needs and fires are addressed if necessary.”
“Keeping this area safe is critical, as there are approximately 500 residential homes in this block.”
But the mayor also said that as the police chief “takes this operational step, we will continue to remain focused on what we can and must do to address the systemic inequities that continue to disproportionately impact our Black residents.”
“Yesterday, we announced a commitment to invest $100 million dollars into community – in addition to existing city programs — and to work with community to create a Black Commission that will help to amplify black voices in City Hall,” she wrote on Twitter.
The mayor hoped that with “these operational changes, our city can peacefully move forward together.”